- READ: Undrafted rookie QB Bagent bests top-pick Young
- READ: Thielen: CAR offense 'not hitting on any cylinders'
- READ: Ex-Panthers RB Foreman keys Bears' TNF triumph
- Bears’ victory will pay off in April. As the owners of both theirs and the Carolina Panthers’ first-round picks in the 2024 NFL Draft, Thursday’s game was, in essence, a net-zero event. One of the Bears’ picks moves up, the other goes down -- win or lose. However, it was far more beneficial for the Bears to beat the Panthers, as they did Thursday, with Carolina now tied with the Arizona Cardinals for the NFL’s worst record at 1-8 (pending Sunday’s Cardinals result). The Panthers have a far higher chance of having the league’s worst record this season, with the Bears now at 3-7. If Chicago lands the top pick in the draft for a second straight year (without the stigma of the worst record), it’s a nice feather in the cap of general manager Ryan Poles and more ammunition to continue attacking roster needs.
- Another tough night for Bryce Young, even with some late flashes. Young had another up-and-down game in Thursday’s loss, as Frank Reich took the ball out of the rookie’s hands late in the game with the Panthers trailing by three points. The field goal try missed. Young had made some fourth-down magic on the final few drives, converting three of them, but he didn’t get a fourth shot on fourth-and-10. Young’s final three passes fell incomplete in a 21-of-38 passing night, for 185 yards. The Panthers never scored on offense, barely dipping their toes into the red zone. Young really struggled against pressure most of the game, which isn’t shocking, but he had at least two would-be interceptions dropped by Bears defenders, one in the final drive. He had some eye-opening highs, such as the 45-yard throw to Michael Strachan, plus the late theatrics, but there was far too much inconsistency from the passing game, especially with shaky protection after the first few drives.
- Tyson Bagent now has more victories than Bryce Young. Young (23-4 as a starter in college) and Bagent (43-10) entered the NFL accustomed to winning at their respective levels of college football, but only one has won multiple starts in the NFL -- and it wasn’t the No. 1 pick in the draft. The undrafted Bagent has now led the Bears to two victories in his four starts, improving his play over his previous two starts, which were rough. We thought Justin Fields might go in this game, but he was ruled out. To Bagent’s credit, he was prepared for the moment. Bagent started slowly Thursday, getting away with a near pick-six on the opening drive, but rallied late in the first half and helped cut Carolina’s lead to 10-9. Bagent wasn’t asked to do a lot in the second half, but he led the go-ahead TD in the third quarter and took care of the football. That was the biggest difference between Weeks 8 and 9 versus Thursday: no turnovers. Bagent made more prolific throws and plays in each of the past two losses, but it was telling that offensive coordinator Luke Getsy called for a pass on third-and-7 from midfield as the Bears were trying to run out the clock. Strong trust for any rookie.
- Ihmir Smith-Marsette, the one bright spot. On a night when Carolina couldn’t cross the Bears’ 15-yard line, Smith-Marsette was the one Panther who crossed the goal line. He spent six games with the Bears last season, earning only three touches. On Smith-Marsette’s first touch Thursday, he broke a scoreless tie, running back a punt return 79 yards for a touchdown. Not bad for a guy who never really returned punts (not even in college) prior to this season – and he got to do it against his former club. Smith-Marsette made at least five Bears miss: Josh Blackwell, Dylan Cole, long snapper Patrick Scales, punter Trenton Gill and -- in an admirable but futile attempt -- Robert Tonyan. According to Next Gen Stats, Smith-Marsette’s return was plus-72 return yards over expected, had a TD Probability of 0.4% (the third-most improbable punt-return TD since 2021) and traveled 106.5 yards from snap to score (19.53 mph). He’s received minimal offensive snaps this season and was penalized for an illegal block on his only offensive appearance Thursday. But can they not find a way to get Smith-Marsette the ball on offense? Two years ago, he had 103 receiving yards and a TD in a game. That one also came against the Bears.
- Montez Sweat leads an improved Bears pass rush. All season long, the Bears have struggled to pressure quarterbacks consistently. They’ve added Yannick Ngakoue and other pieces in free agency, and they traded for Sweat at the deadline. Thursday night was exactly the kind of performance -- across the defensive line -- that you want to see if you’re a Bears fan. Sweat had a team-high eight pressures in the game, notching two QB hits on the first defensive series in his Soldier Field debut and helping to force a big early punt. Later, Sweat pressured Young into a scary throwaway backed up against his own end zone and drew attention away from Justin Jones on his sack two plays later. Rasheem Green’s first-down sack on the Panthers’ final drive was a big stall to their momentum. On top of that, Chicago’s front completely smothered the Panthers’ run game.
Next Gen stat of the game: Bears RB D'Onta Foreman currently ranks second in the NFL in rushing yards after contact (272) since Week 6. On Thursday, Foreman had 61 of his 80 rushing yards after contact.
NFL Research: With six receptions on Thursday, Adam Thielen became the fifth undrafted player in the common-draft era (since 1967) to have 600-plus career receptions. Ahead of Thielen on the list: Antonio Gates (955 receptions), Wes Welker (903), Rod Smith (849) and Danny Amendola (617).